Paul Solo? Han reinvented in the style of Yellow Submarine for Star Wars Uncut.
Gareth Mitchell: Hello. I’m Gareth Mitchell presenter of Digital Planet and this is a special extended interview from the South by South West Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.
Casey Pugh: I was working at vimeo.com and we would spend tons of time trying to figure out how to get filmmakers to collaborate to make a film, but remotely and we thought of these complex tools to create and it would be very time consuming to create these tools and I thought well what is the common denominator way to get people to create like a feature length film. I was like what if we just split a movie into pieces and distribute them individually and the first movie I thought of was Star Wars.
Gareth Mitchell: Why Star Wars? Was it literally just the first movie you thought of?
Casey Pugh: Yeah. Honestly it was the first movie, but, you know, for a reason too in hindsight was that when you think about Star Wars is it’s like the most culturally pervasive movie like in the world, everyone knows Star Wars. Even if you’ve never seen Star Wars everyone knows who Darth Vader is.
Gareth Mitchell: So you launch the project, you get a load of people to send in their own interpretations of 15 second scenes that you’ve allocated. What kinds of people were taking part?
Casey Pugh: Everyone, all demographics, all like families, kids, professional animators, professional filmmakers. It’s just the wide variety of the scenes were coming in, just stop motion animation, just trash cans acting as R2-D2, you know, people wrapping themself up in tinfoil C-3PO. There’s no limit to the creativity, like I really cannot think of a certain genre of film that wasn’t covered in these scenes.
Gareth Mitchell: Yet you go from scene to scene and you might have just a few people leaping around in cardboard boxes to look like R2-D2 and then suddenly some really slick looking animation or CGI, so you get a sense that some people who took part were complete amateurs, probably hardly ever picked up a camera before, others were clearly within the trade, so you get that sort of combination of the professional and the amateur I suppose.
Casey Pugh: Yeah and the discontinuity between the scenes has made it even more special I think just because you know this movie by heart like, you know, you see Luke as like some kid, like a four year old on one scene and then Luke is this animation next scene you’re still able to connect it, because you know what’s happening, you know the plot, the story of this film.
Gareth Mitchell: What was the reaction from Lucasfilm and George Lucas?
Casey Pugh: I can’t say George Lucas directly, because I haven’t heard anything from him, but I met Lucasfilm and they were in love with the project and they were totally supportive and they wanted me to, you know, continue and do Empire Strikes Back, but I had a full time job and this was a labour of love and I needed it.
Gareth Mitchell: Okay. One down five to go. That’s the rest of your life sorted out isn’t it?
Casey Pugh: For free. I don’t know if I have time to do that.
Gareth Mitchell: Did you see this as an experiment in the crowd sourcing of high art? Is there an element of exploration in all this?
Casey Pugh: Yeah. I mean on one aspect I was exploring film collaboration, but I was also a little obsessive with crowdsourcing and I wanted to give myself a project to do with crowdsourcing and I follow lots of other projects that have been very successful to crowdsourcing, but I feel like we’re always missing one key factor and they were able to get people to collaborate easily, but the end result was always not that satisfying for the people who are contributing and I feel like my project’s as first time where people are so excited to see it and be able to go to theatres and seeing themselves onscreen and like it’s amazing to be some like upcoming filmmaker to like be able to get himself onscreen or just a kid who got onscreen and just to go to the theatre and be able to go on stage and be like hey I’m in here, you know, it’s special.
Gareth Mitchell: Now as a one off it’s a great opportunity to see how people can work together and crowdsource, is it seriously a way forward? When you sit through this Star Wars the discontinuities are forgivable, because, you know, it’s a piece of fun, it’s a piece of experimentation, does it say as much about the limitations of crowdsourcing as it does about what makes it cool?
Casey Pugh: Yeah, definitely. I mean my interpretation is that crowdsourcing can create something special, my project specifically has become very successful namely because of Star Wars, you know, that’s something that’s already so popular and I’m just taking advantage of that and put a good crowdsourcing tool on top of it to make it easy to use. But the end result is still like not professional quality and for filmmaking I think you leverage smaller parts like micro parts of crowdsourcing and like make parts really amazing so you can get this wide range of like diversity into like the content you’re creating. I mean one example is this Michael Jackson White Glove Tracking project where this guy asked people to draw a box around Michael Jackson’s white glove in the original debut of the Moonwalk video and so he’s exported all the individual frames of this video and like thousands of people drew a box around the white glove and like oh what does that do? That allows you to have all this data and you know where the position of the hand is throughout the entire video and so, you know, video artists and like engineers would then go back through and recomposite the video and give Michael Jackson a giant hand throughout the entire video or his hand’s on fire or it’s really like these really funny interpretations now that they have this like data set to like create this content. Then like another example is this Johnny Cash project where they took this music video of Johnny Cash and they’re asked to like redraw each individual frame with a music video and so like that tens of thousands of people drew like black and white frames and then it was put together, stitched together like similar to Star Wars Uncut and then play it throughout the whole thing and you can see like it’s very stylised, like slash amateur like animation.
Gareth Mitchell: As for your role in Star Wars Uncut, do you see yourself as a creative figure within it as the curator in this particular piece?
Casey Pugh: Originally I felt more like an artist and I was just, you know, doing this labour of love, but over time I’d become more of a curator and I guess almost producer slash director of this, I somehow stumbled into a director position.
Gareth Mitchell met Casey Pugh at SXSWi 2011 and asked him about the risks and delights of inviting the world to have a go at remaking part of Star Wars - and found out why we might not see The Empire Strikes Back Uncut any time soon.